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IDA Stepping Up Riverstone Role

Virginia Tech is in the process of stepping out of its leadership role with the Modeling and Simulation (M&S) Center of Excellence at Riverstone, and the Halifax County Industrial Authority will assume implementation, former M & S Center Executive Director Dr. Carole Inge confirmed.

“Virginia Tech decided in August to step out of the leadership role due to the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority needing to implement the program,” Inge said.

Inge said although Virginia Tech will no longer oversee the program, she will continue to consult with the Halifax County IDA as needed. However, she said Virginia Tech cannot manage centers long-term without a business case and without state funding that is consistent, “thus the reason for our decision.”

Nearly three years ago, Inge said she carried out a series of studies to identify the potential for business development and growth at Riverstone Technology Park. 

The goal was to create an economic model that would attract companies to the region and help sustain existing companies, especially those in the engineering and scientific arenas.

When she arrived at Riverstone, Inge said she recalls thinking that Riverstone had a lot of promise, and soon thereafter, the local leadership went to work developing the model and raising the funds for the modeling and simulation and energy centers. 

Soon after the Virginia Tech Riverstone studies were complete, the Virginia Tobacco Commission funded five regional energy centers for a total of $36 million. 
Inge said working with Delegate Clarke Hogan, they were instrumental in making Riverstone one of the five Virginia energy centers, with its mission to commercialize energy technologies. 

“Virginia Tech’s overall goal was to create a regional emphasis in Southern Virginia with three targeted locations for initial deployment: the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR), Virginia International Raceway (VIR) and Riverstone Technology Park,” she explained.

These locations and their high technology projects serve as beacons for economic transformation, Inge added, and all three focused on research, development and commercialization in separate technology areas.

Through its outreach and extension services, Virginia Tech has recently taken an active role in providing leadership to small rural communities in need.  Since the creation of the IALR, VIR and Riverstone projects, Inge said this region has benefited from Virginia Tech’s services in areas such as the environment, energy, autonomous vehicles, unmanned vehicle systems and a vast variety of technical areas for which Virginia Tech has great expertise.

Virginia Tech is known for developing these types of technology-focused efforts, but when they are mature, the goal is to transition them to local or regional leadership for implementation, Inge said.

As with all projects, they go through stages, she said.

One month ago, following the transfer of the Tobacco Commission funding from the Higher Education Foundation to the Halifax IDA, Virginia Tech and Inge began to take a less active leadership role in the Riverstone project. 

“Virginia Tech is known for creating innovative models as opposed to managing them long term,” she continued. “We are not in the technology management business, but rather Research One (R1) universities are forging new paths and creating new models, and when the models get past the incubation phase, we (the university) like to see the local leadership develop the management structure for their own long term success, and we think Riverstone is at that point.”

According to Inge, Virginia Tech does not have the state funding to manage Riverstone’s technology programs long-term.  As opposed to the efforts at the Riverstone facility, IALR and SVHEC have been sustainable for all these years because they receive significant state funding, while the personnel working to develop Riverstone do not.

Tobacco Commission funded operations is limited at $375,000 for three years, and the Riverstone Modeling and Simulation Center requires a minimum of $800,000 a year or needs a for-profit model with shared equity stake in start-ups, she added.

For the past month Inge said she has received calls from the western part of the tobacco region and from northern parts of Virginia since “the leaders of these communities desire to create a similar model to the one designed for Halifax County.

“This community should be proud they took the risk to go first,” Inge said.

Virginia Tech also has been approached by a large Fortune 100 defense firm to develop a national clean energy incubator model in the Washington Metropolitan area, and they are now considering that opportunity, she added.

After the procurement of over $12 million from local, state, federal and Tobacco Commission sources, the Riverstone Modeling and Simulation Center equipment and software is now on site, and the modeling and simulation center is almost complete, Inge said.

Virginia Tech with its scientific and technical teams chose the equipment and hired the vendors.  Today, Riverstone has its first major technology assets almost in place, and there is significant new activity from small to mid-size companies as well as from two very large companies looking to expand their services and products there, both with an eye on energy, she added.

According to Inge, Riverstone’s new assets include:

• A proposal center to support sophisticated federal, state and corporate proposal development.

• A 3D simulation theatre, similar to IMAX, to support complex technical analysis and engineering processes and systems.

• A TelePresence center for international business support services.

• A geospatial enterprise system to create geographical data.

• An audio-video center to provide energy education and corporate training.

• A centralized data center and LAN/WAN service center that supports Riverstone with Internet2, National Lambda Rail and other Internet services.

• A Collaboratory: a state-of-the-art collaboration system designed for next-generation project management.

The assets at Riverstone today provide the support tools for what is envisioned as the larger plan of commercializing energy technologies, she said.

According to Inge, the center as it stands today is just a start.

“A modeling and simulation center has sophisticated software systems, a robust network connected to supercomputers, algorithms tied to sensors or stand-alone systems for testing product performance, and computer scientists, engineers and technical analysts developing computational models. Without these elements, the center is similar to a Kinko’s on steroids.  Shell buildings with fancy equipment do not make a modeling and simulation center, but rather a center with technical people creating software and algorithms that support product development and services to customers make a modeling and simulation center.”

To augment the Modeling and Simulation Center, Inge said Virginia Tech launched the Virginia Clean Energy Business Incubator, a statewide organization tied to a national consortium of commercialization facilities around the U.S. 

The broad vision carried forward by Virginia Tech to the National Renewable Energy Lab and Oak Ridge National Lab was that Riverstone’s modeling and simulation capabilities could support the energy technology commercialization process for the national consortium.  This would bring technology to market, creating a service center in Riverstone’s newly created energy center that would provide sustainable work and jobs in the park.  

The future is bright for clean energy incubators and Virginia Tech will continue to assist in growing communities to their greatest potential. While Virginia Tech will continue to forge new models and paths, the Riverstone Technology model, along with IALR and VIR, serve as demonstrations of what can be realized when research universities and small rural communities work together, Inge said.

“Halifax is courageous to take on the operations, and we are happy to see a more active local leadership in this regard as it has been our responsibility for five years,” she added. “A small team cannot take it to the next level.”

Inge said she believes Halifax is poised for success. “It is theirs to lose,” she said.

“This will be a major undertaking, but with good leadership and vision, companies will come,” she said adding, “Not for the equipment, but for the tobacco funding, and more importantly for the connections to contracts with defense contractors in particular.”

Inge continued, “We can link these companies to these opportunities in Washington, D. C. and within clustering technical centers like Richmond and Virginia Beach, and the Halifax center can augment these activities with basic modeling and simulation services.”

Inge said she looks forward to the future for Riverstone and is optimistic these relationships will develop.

“We are expanding the Virginia Tech models, and our goal is to commercialize energy tech in the clean tech space from South Boston to Washington, D. C. and beyond. The future is energy like the early days of the informational technology boom. There are many similarities,” she added.

According to the former Modeling and Simulation Center director, much work is needed to carry the project to the next level.

“The center is ready for prime time, but it will require much more as this is a seed for the future.  Marketing, business development and branding are also essential components of a successful center,” Inge added.  

Inge said she has been invited to work with other communities and the national capitol region outside Washington, D. C. to replicate and expand on the Halifax –Virginia Tech model including a regional model in Richmond and a national incubator in Washington called the National Institute for the Commercialization of Clean Energy (NICE).

Today, she will be attending the White House event on energy.